Blog

WRITING UNDER SIEGE: THE INDEPENDENT LABOUR PARTY IN INTERWAR BRITAIN

Posted on

I never intended to retire in 2003 at the age of 62. I hoped that I might be allowed to go on working until I just couldn't crawl into work any more. I enjoyed running the large Access to Higher Education course which I'd set up – and since expanded further with new subject options– more then a decade previously. But there were many worry-inducing things happening in Further Education in those days. I had strange pains in the chest. I went to the doctor's expecting he'd at least run a stethoscope over me. But he didn't give me any kind of physical examination at all. 'It's stress' he just told me . I tried to carry on – but now I knew what it was it was very difficult and the pains returned.

 

Having retired a bit early I had to decide what to do next. Initially, nothing! I just concentrated on relaxing and the chest pains going away. Then, as much to give me a bit of exercise as anything more noble I got the local Clarion cycling club going at the beginning of 2004. I was already working on the project which eventually became the book Romancing the Revolution in 2011. There was no hurry. The research I did, mainly involving reading microfilm copies of Left wing papers in the library at the University of Sussex, continued. I was exploring what I called 'the myth of soviet democracy' – the notion that the workers' councils in revolutionary and post-revolutionary Russia epitomised a 'real democracy' remote from and superior to the very limited claims to democracy of parliaments and assemblies in even those countries most advanced politically. This was a crucial factor, I was to show, in rallying much of the Left to at least give houseroom to Leninism and Communism.

 

I'd already done a seminar on this at Sussex in 2002 and three years later I would follow this with another one on the ILP's response to what was happening in Russia. By then I was teaching at Sussex part-time on the first year undergraduate history course. The late Alun Howkins who had been an 'external' for the history option of my Access course got me the job – which was just what I needed at the time and I hope satisfactory from the students' point of view.

 

The problem – which grew with time as I got ever further into completing the MS - was who was going to publish it? I'd had enough problems finding a publisher before. You tend not to be taken seriously by academic publishers unless you work at a university. The answer was totally unexpected. In 1909 I had a message from Alvin Finkel, a member of the editorial board of the Canadian Labour movement quarterly Labour/Le Travail asking me to write a review article for it. The books in question covered much more recent periods than I was really familiar with except in a very casual way and I tried to get out of it pleading too great ignorance of the history involved. But Alvin insisted and I wrote the piece which appeared later that year

 

In the course of corresponding with Alvin I had mentioned the project I was working on and he showed interest telling me he was on the board also of Athabasca University Press in Edmonton. To cut a long story a bit shorter they agreed to publish it but there was one further twist. Up to then my title had been 'The Myth of Soviet

Democracy and the British Left' It was the evening before we were setting off for a longish holiday in France. The phone rang. AU Press thought the title wasn't snappy enough and suggested 'Romancing the Reds'. I thought that was unhelpfully confrontational and suggested 'Romancing the Revolution.' And that's what it became.

 

Cheeky note from daughter uploading this....

He says he's retired but as you have read above - it looks like he is still very much enjoying working to me!